October 25, 2012
When it comes to the U.S. economy, it’s difficult to determine exactly where we stand – and what the future holds. While we’ve seen some signs of hope in job gains, the housing market and consumer confidence, unemployment remains high and the stock market continues to be volatile.
Maybe your perspective depends on what newspaper you read or whether you tune in to Fox, CNN or MSNBC. If you’re reading industry news here on asicentral.com, I hope you were heartened by our reporting on the 4.6% year-over-year increase in sales among ASI distributor members – the 11th consecutive quarterly increase.
The increase was the smallest since the industry began its rebound, to be sure, but with more than half of all distributors surveyed reporting an upsurge, $5 billion in total sales is cause for celebration, especially when many U.S. companies are releasing stagnant or falling 3Q numbers.
There’s no doubt election sales are impacting industry sales, with ASI estimating total election-related ad specialty spending in 2012 hitting about $870 million by the time its all over. We derived our election estimate by comparing total promo product spending to total advertising spending in the U.S. and estimates of the total amount spent on elections this year.
Not all of the promotional political products are sold through the distributor channel, of course, but nearly half of all industry distributors sell election-related items like yard signs, flyers, pins, buttons and tee shirts used by campaigns at local, state and federal levels along with special interest groups to promote their candidate or cause. What election items are paying off for your company? Any surprises?
Like everyone else, I’m waiting to see how else the election and its ultimate conclusion impact our industry. A lot can change in regard to health care and taxes, all of which will impact decisions on hiring, marketing spend and capital improvements. In general, it seems companies, and their clients, are taking a wait-and-see attitude.
To read the entire ASI® 3Q research report, click here.
October 23, 2012
Every October, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, thousands of dedicated people come together to walk or run for the cure. Unfortunately, nearly everyone has been touched in some way by the disease, which can strike both men and women.
Every October, I always think back to 1973, when I was in 6th grade. One of my favorite aunts had Stage 4 breast cancer – only we didn’t know it because back then it was a medical problem that people whispered about but didn’t name. All I knew was that it was serious and something bad might happen.
My aunt – Lenora Hull, now 80 and still living outside my hometown of Hope, Indiana – underwent a radical mastectomy 39 years ago today, followed by cobalt radiation. I spoke to her this week and she recalled how, for many, breast cancer was treated like a secret. Rather than say she’d lost a breast, one neighborhood parent said she’d lost a leg!
Luckily, Aunt Lenora (pictured here) survived. Although treated for metastatic cancer in the lung in 2001, she is now cancer-free and feisty as ever, keeping in touch with family on Facebook and on Skype. As she told me this week, “God has certainly blessed me. You kids were all still in school and I thought I might never see you as adults. But I did and I am very proud of all of you.”
For 15 years, she was chairperson of a Reach to Recovery program at the local hospital, giving back by helping other women through exercise demonstrations and a wig bank and by showing them firsthand there can be much life and activity after diagnosis and successful treatment. Her granddaughter, Kate, gave her thanks through involvement with one of the many Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure events held throughout the U.S. every October.
“It’s just part of life and we just have to go on,” Aunt Lenora told me, sharing very wise words indeed.
In our industry, pink is also the color – and promotion is the point. Everyone who carries, waves or wears pink apparel and ribbon-imprinted accessories at events helps spread the word about breast cancer while raising much-needed funds for research and education. The goody bags given away by fundraising organizers often contain branded items participants can use during runs and walks, like umbrellas in case of rain, bottled water or pedometers.
Click here for a press release ASI issued this month on ways the industry is helping to fight for the cause.
October 19, 2012
Pop quiz: Next time you find yourself in a group of college students who don’t know what you do for a living, ask them about promotional products. Then ask if they’ve heard about the industry in their marketing class, or if they’re considering our industry for a potential lifetime career.
I’m betting you’ll get a lot of blank stares in response.
If recent discussions I’ve had with distributors in Chicago and Los Angeles are any indication, just about everyone is on board with the need for more outreach to colleges and universities. We want to get young people educated and excited about this industry. Hopefully, they’ll give it the ultimate stamp of approval and brand it “cool.”
To that end, ASI® recently announced a unique education initiative designed, in great part, to teach college students ways to become successful entrepreneurs as distributors in our industry. Along the way, they’ll also learn about suppliers, decorators and the ad specialty industry itself.
We think it’s a great way to expand the number of new college graduates who understand the industry and, we hope, become interested in making it a career. Or at least understand the great ROI from using promotional items in the marketing programs they might create in whatever career course they might take.
Right now, our industry is rarely if ever mentioned in marketing, advertising or business courses or textbooks – and I’d like to see that change.
It’s a pilot program so we’ll see how it goes. Right now, it involves a single institution: Babson College, a Massachusetts school that blends top-flight business education coursework with hands-on training, online education and real-world applications.
At Babson, approximately 500 first-year undergraduates enroll in a year-long course to learn how to run a business. Instructor-led groups of about 20 students each receive approximately $3,000 in seed money, which some groups will use to buy, imprint and sell promotional products during the second of two semesters.
As part of our effort to introduce the industry to potential new hires, ASI is donating our time and energy, along with offering access to ESP® and ESP Websites™. Students will also be able to take courses at ASI’s Online Learning Center and further hone their business and networking skills during an on-site guided tour at our New York City show in May (featuring a keynote by Buddy Valastro, Jr., the “Cake Boss” on the hit TLC reality show).
We’ve had positive feedback from several local distributors interested in speaking to or mentoring students during this trial. A couple of other people were worried about “the competition” but I think our active distributors can overcome a few kids as we build a pipeline of future industry leaders.
October 15, 2012
Honestly, I haven’t even told my closest friends how I plan to vote because I haven’t decided. I plan to watch all of the debates and continue reading everything I can until the morning of the election or I make my final call. Lots can happen between now and election day.
As a rule, I don’t take sides – and neither does ASI®. As you may recall, we’ve brought in a pretty broad slate of keynote speakers to our shows, including everyone from President Bill Clinton and Democratic commentator James Carville to Gen. Colin Powell and Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.
Our balance sheet extends to legislation as well, so if we do come out for any one side, it’s usually on the side of efforts to protect family and small businesses and U.S. manufacturing.
Since we always want to know what our members think, we’re conducting a series of industry polls on presidential preferences leading up to next month’s election. In our first one, taken in September, we found that among ASI members, Mitt Romney held a commanding 18-point lead over President Barack Obama, 57% to 39%. In the latest Gallup Poll of likely voters, Romney leads 49%-47%. Among registered voters, Obama leads 48%-46%.
Like many of our members, expert economist Steve Forbes thinks American voters will “fire” President Obama and elect Romney because he and his running mate put forth positive, sustentative proposals. Forbes – an upcoming ASI Show™ keynoter – offered his take on the race among a number of other topics during a recent interview on ASI Radio.
“The economy resembles a car on the open highway that should be going 70 mph, but instead is puttering along at 20-25 mph and shows signs of going at an even slower pace,” Forbes told our ASI Radio hosts and listening audience. “People don’t want more of the same. People want change.”
Forbes’ interview advances a keynote on leadership lessons he’s giving January 7 at ASI Orlando. In his radio interview, he gave us a taste of what’s to come, sharing his outlook for the economy, as well as his tips for small-business success. If you missed it, click here to listen. (And click here to register for the Florida show and Forbes’ free keynote.)
As many of you know, Forbes has some experience with presidential politics – a Republican, he ran twice for president. In his interview with ASI, Forbes said Romney’s first debate performance, in which he emphasized his pro-growth program and planned across-the-board cuts in income tax rates along with his pledge to clean up the tax codes, will give him the needed edge over President Obama.
“Romney understands – and people grasp this more than ever before – that small and medium-sized businesses are fonts of innovation in this economy and also in job creation,” Forbes told ASI radio’s hosts and listeners.
Forbes’ flagship publication, Forbes, is the nation’s leading business magazine, with a circulation of more than 900,000. The father of five is also co-author of several books, including “How Capitalism Will Save Us.”
With a net worth estimated at $430 million, Forbes’ small-business tips are worth considering, starting with urging companies to become an even stronger part of the interactive Web community. Forbes entered the new media arena in 1996 with the launch of Forbes.com, which now averages 18 million unique monthly visitors.
Interestingly, he predicts more companies will become content creators akin to the model presided over by companies like Procter & Gamble during the “soap opera” era of the 1950s, when companies sponsored TV shows in order to better showcase their products.
“Now we’re all content creators,” said Forbes. “Businesses can no longer just put out the message – they need to interact with customers and potential customers.”
In the radio interview, Forbes also said he expects that within the next generation the U.S. will become a font for manufacturing again, thanks in part to the country’s “brainpower.”
“More and more manufacturing is impacted by high technology in terms of material and robotics,” he said. “It depends not just on labor costs, but on brainpower, and we’re very good on the brainpower part. Manufacturing’s changing and we’re leading it.”
Be prepared for curveballs and remember your company’s purpose, he advised. “If you go forward with that mindset, you will have surprises, but if you remember what your purpose is, you’re more likely to get over these storms, which will be constant,” Forbes said. “What they say is true: You can eat well or sleep well, but you can’t do both.”
P.S. ASI is conducting another industry presidential poll now, click here to cast your online ballot. And let me know what you think of Forbes’ predictions: Is he on target – or off base?
October 9, 2012
One of my favorite things to do is visit member companies and meet with smaller, more intimate groups. Over the past few weeks, it seems like I spent more time in the air than on the ground, traveling to the U.K., Chicago and L.A.
I was in England for Sourcing City’s Marketplace event, which serves the U.K. promotional market. Besides the international cuisine and gorgeous English countryside, the U.K. means valuable face time with the distributor and supplier clients of Alistair Mylchreest, the CEO of Sourcing City and our partner in PromoAlliance, a new international alliance we formed with PSI to identify and introduce best practices and market development concepts benefiting the U.S., U.K. and European markets.
In the photo at right, I’m pictured with PSI’s managing director, Michael Freter, left, and Alistair Mylchreest, center.
They do things a little differently across the pond. For instance, only select U.K. distributors with sales in excess of 500,000 pounds are invited to the Marketplace event, held in Farnborough, England. There, they meet with suppliers during 30-minute appointments.
It’s an interesting twist and provides up-close-and-personal opportunities for more in-depth discussions.
I also traveled to Chicago to meet with a number of large distributors convened for an annual meeting. During business and social gatherings we discussed industry trends and challenges, the outlook for 2013 and beyond and what we all can do to strengthen the industry.
Later, in Los Angeles, I met with the principals of distributors that are members of the PeerNet Group, an alliance that will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year. The business discussion extended to a recreational whale-watching trip that didn’t include whales but instead hundreds (maybe thousands) of leaping dolphins. No kidding. And they really put on a show.
At each gathering, I was more than impressed with the intensity of their interest in ASI and the thoughtful roundtable discussions we had about our industry. They really pressed me for answers! I was also very happy to hear that so many of these successful entrepreneurs use ESP® to help drive their business, as well as ESP Websites™ and a number of other tools. There also were discussions about expanding attendance at The ASI Shows™ and other events.
Along the way I heard a ton of ideas, including the possibility of holding sales meetings at one of our upcoming ASI Power Summits (the next one is November 11-13 in Naples, Florida). By co-locating, a group or company can take advantage of two major events while saving on travel and hotel expenses. If you think this might work for your company, please let me know.
This week I’m in Lewistown, Maine, to visit with Geiger (asi/202900), and after that I hope to get some home base time before heading down to Florida. I’m flying right into the New Year!
October 8, 2012
Westword, Denver’s equivalent to the Village Voice, posted a gushing report on the items inside the bags the University of Denver gave out to journalists gathered in Colorado to cover the debate.
The reporter was clearly wowed by the bags’ contents, which included industry staples like water bottles, lip balm, pins, pens, caps and even a gluten-free snack bar. “Upon close inspection – i.e. giddy dumping of contents on the floor – we found all sorts of surprising goods: some edible, some health-oriented and some sure to endure as mementos of another political happening that puts Denver in the spotlight,” the reporter gushed.
All in all, I’m sure the bags provided long-lasting PR for the university – and our industry. Click here to read the post and see photos. (Like many reporters, this one used the word “swag,” which is loved by some in our industry and hated by others!)